Shin-Soo Choo has been this good previously in his career. He’s actually been better.
Many forget that in his first season with the Texas Rangers in 2014, a season that registers as one of the worst of his career as he tried to play through injuries, he had a .370/.500/1.054 slash line after 28 games.
At the 31-game mark that season, it was .340/.478/.982.
Choo has played 31 games this season for the Rangers, who were 16-16 as they traveled Monday to Pittsburgh ahead of a two-game interleague series against the Pirates that starts Tuesday.
Choo’s slash line to date: .328/.416/.971.
His average ranks second on the team, his on-base percentage is first, and his OPS is second. Those numbers ranked eighth, third and fifth in the American League entering Monday.
Manager Chris Woodward said that it’s just about perfect. Choo is the model other Rangers hitters should follow.
“If our offense resembles Shin-Soo Choo, we’re going to be the best offense in baseball,” Woodward said. “He’s excited that guys are taking that process, that preparation, all those things that he’s done his whole career. I’m not surprised by his success.”
Choo said that he isn’t doing anything different this season, but he might be motivated more than in recent seasons. After making his first All-Star team last season with a terrific first half, he had what he labels the worst second half of his career.
He wants consistency from Opening Day, or in his case this season Game 2, to the season finale. That’s what the best players in baseball do, and two months shy of his 37th birthday and in his 15th MLB season, Choo is still trying to be the best.
“That’s coming from experience,” Choo said. “I’ve had great starts and bad finishes, or bad starts and great finishes. I try to be the same and control myself, and I try to think of something positive every game.
“Everybody here has great talent, but I think the biggest talent is mental. Stay the calm. Stay the same. Only a few players have a consistent season. Most are up and down. Some days I’m down, but I try to come back quickly. I try to not think about negative things.”
Choo is the Rangers’ leadoff hitter, but he doesn’t fit the prototype of a hitter who is constantly taking pitches and making pitcher work.
Oh, he does that, but if he sees a good pitch, he’s going to swing at it. To that end, Choo reached base leading off in 10 straight games last month.
Of Choo’s 39 hits this season, 26 have come after seeing three pitches or less.
While he leads noted for drawing walks, the 16 he has this season are tied for second on the team, behind Joey Gallo’s 25, but tied for only 21st in the league.
Gallo (4.29) and Nomar Mazara (4.25) see more pitches per plate appearance than Choo (4.12), but all three ranked in the top 20 in the AL (sixth, 10th, 19th).
“Just getting to witness what he does on a daily basis, that’s where I’m kind of just blown away,” Woodward said. “He’s the most prepared player I’ve ever seen. On or off the field, he doesn’t take one pitch or one day for granted.”
Choo endured a stretch of 140 at-bats, dating to last season, without a home run before going deep April 15. He has homered three times since, and his 11 doubles were tied for fourth in the league.
He is power threat again, in addition to his on-base prowess. Choo started Sunday’s 10-2 win with a single through an infield shift, then opened the third with a bunt single to beat the shift.
Before the game, he spent time on the field critiquing the struggling Rougned Odor, telling him that he looked good mechanically but his timing was off. Odor went 2-for-4 with a two-run homer and RBI single.
“Choo is a great person and a great hitter, too,” Odor said. “He’s a lefty like me. I talk with him a lot. He told me, ‘You look good. You’re just a little bit late. That’s it. Just keep doing what you do.’”
Few are doing what they do as well as Choo right now.